The 5 things to consider before adopting a new pet
Are you thinking of bringing a new cat or dog into your home? It’s so thrilling to imagine have a furry little face to come home to at the end of the day, especially if you live alone. It’s cozy to imagine having a cat to curl up next to you on the couch, or a dog to take to the park on the weekends.
And those are the wonderful things about sharing your life with a pet. But there’s so much more to the decision to add a furry family member to you home than that.
Following are the 5 most important questions to ask yourself before welcoming a new cat or dog into your household:
Can I make a 10 to 15+ year commitment today to a puppy or kitten today?
That fluffy orphaned puppy that was shared to your Facebook feed was adorable! That sad little kitten at the sanctuary on your favorite Instagram account desperately needs a home. Why shouldn’t you help if you can help? Besides, you might think to yourself, it would be fun to have a little “buddy” of your own right now.
This kind of thinking is generous and compassionate, but also needs, for the sake of the dog or cat you wish to “save,” to be realistic. Today might be a great time in your life to have a fun puppy or kitten around to play with, but what about tomorrow?
A dog can enjoy a 10- to 15-year lifespan; cats routinely reach their 20s. Can you envision your life 10 or 20 years from now? Perhaps you’ll travel more for work. Maybe there will be a baby in future. You might live in different state or country even. Cats and dogs are sensitive beings who develop deep connections with you. Are you able to commit to being there for them for the rest of their lives? Are you willing to make decisions about your own future that includes them?
If you don’t yet know, then you are not ready to adopt right now. There are many ways to channel that compassion and bring pets into your life without formally adopting them. Consider volunteering your time to a shelter, or donating to a rescue charity.
Do you own your own home? Do you have permission to keep a dog or cat in your apartment?
If you own your own home, you can decide if you want a pet on the property. If you rent, that decision is in the hands of your landlord.
If you would like to keep a dog or cat in your rented apartment, ask your landlord for permission to do so -- in writing! One of the most common reasons that pets are returned to shelters is because adopters did not get permission from their landlords first. That is a heartbreaking outcome for both pet and owner.
The American Veterinary Association estimates that 50% of renters have pets, and depending upon where you live in the country, rental properties that allow pets are the norm rather than the exception. Consider renting from a private landlord rather than a professionally managed property as private landlords may be able to offer more flexibility with regard to pet policies. Be upfront about the number and type of pets that you have, and get a letter of recommendation from your veterinarian, if possible, to demonstrate that you are a responsible owner.
And finally, if you do rent, ask yourself what would happen to your pets if you ultimately had to move from your current digs. Would you be able and willing to find out pet-friendly accommodations in the future? A pet becomes a family member and a responsible pet owner makes that pet a priority regardless of changes in geography or circumstance.
Do you have time for a pet?
It’s easy to think of all the wonderful things a dog or cat will bring to your life. They can stave off loneliness and boredom. They provide entertainment and affection. Pets can make socializing with other humans easier, too: like any other “hobby,” you automatically have something in common with other pet owners.
But like any other healthy relationship, pet ownership can not be just a one-way street. Dogs and cats require daily interaction with their people to get what they need in their lives. Without the daily attention of their people, dogs and cats can develop a wide range of health and behavioral problems, from obesity to anxiety.
Cats in general require less of a time commitment than dogs. But a cat that has been alone all day needs attention from you when you get home from work, even if you’re tired, and even if you’d rather watch TV than play with the feather toy. With a cat at home, you’ll have to change the way you think about your leisure time: it won’t be so easy to accept a drinks invitation after work, or to jet off for a weekend away without planning for her care.
Dogs vary in need for attention based on their breed, age, and personality. But all dogs, no matter how tiny, how old, or how lazy, need exercise EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Dogs need to burn energy. Dogs that don’t have an avenue to dissipate energy are primed to “misbehave.” A lot of dogs end up back at the shelter because they don’t get enough exercise and become difficult to manage.
Puppies generally require more attention than adult dogs, at least at the beginning. A puppy needs to be taken out for a toilet break after every meal and every nap, and needs supervision throughout the day while they play and chew. If you are unable to meet the needs of a puppy, consider adopting an older dog.
But even if your adult dog is not destructive in the house while you’re away at work or elsewhere, they’re not happy to be home alone. Dogs are social animals and can become depressed and lonely being left by themselves all day long. If everyone in your household works full time, you may need to supplement the attention you’re able to give your dog with the services of a midday dog walker or doggie daycare provider.
Is everyone in the family (or household) on board with bringing a new dog or cat into the house?
Do you live with a roommate, a spouse, or children? Everyone in the household needs to be committed to the idea of a new pet before you bring the pet home.
Does a child in the household have allergies? Does a roommate object to having a shedding pet on the furniture? The time to raise and address the individual concerns of household members is before you bring the cat or dog home.
Who will care for the pet? There are many new tasks associated with pet ownership, from the daily chores of feeding, walking, and cleaning the litter box, to intermittent chores, like bringing the pet to the veterinarian or groomer, and trimming nails and administering medications. These need to be parsed out in advance, rather than argued about, or worse, neglected, after the pet arrives.
Many parents adopt a cat or dog “for their kids” who may have begged for the pet. But pet care is a parent’s responsibility, all well-intentioned promises from the children aside. It is true that caring for a pet can help a child develop a sense of responsibility and build self-esteem, children need to be assigned chores that are developmentally appropriate, and these tasks must be supervised by an adult. It is absolutely essential that the animal’s needs are met, first and foremost.
Rules should be established in advance to ensure that every household member is on the same page with regard to acceptable pet behaviors as well as acceptable human behaviors toward the pet. Every household is different, and every home will have different rules that allow the inhabitants to coexist peacefully. For example, there should be rules around not disturbing a pet that is eating or sleeping, or annoying the pet in general.
There should also be agreed-upon rules for pet behavior. Is the dog allowed on the sofa? Can it sleep in the beds? Should the cat be fed from the table? What words or gestures will be used to train the dog?
Common rules allow a household to work together to care for the pet, and clear, consistent expectations will help your new pet adjust quickly.
Can I afford a pet?
Even if the cost to adopt your new dog or cat is minimal, pet ownership is not cheap. According to the ASPCA, a new dog will cost $1,500 in the first year, while a new cat will add $1,000 to the first-year budget.
There are some basic upfront expenses involved in bringing a new cat or dog home that you’re probably already thinking about: food, bedding, toys, leashes, litter boxes and litter, food and water bowls, flea and tick and heartworm preventatives, shampoos, brushes, baby gates, crates, and wee-wee pads, to name a few.
There are also the regular veterinary expenses: spaying and neutering, vaccinations, and annual checkups. And there are grooming expenses for certain dog and cat breeds, too, that must be factored in to the overall cost of having a pet in your life.
There are all the unexpected costs too, like the veterinary emergencies that are impossible to plan for, but which, unfortunately, are part of virtually every pet owner’s experience. Many pet owners purchase pet health insurance to mitigate some of the surprise veterinary bills, but pet insurance itself adds another line to the budget.
Dogs may require obedience classes or the services of a trainer or dog walker. All animals will require boarding or pet sitting when you travel, and none of these services come cheap.
Only you can decide if your budget has room for a furry family member, or if that is the best way for you to make use of the discretionary income you might have.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.